Jeanette and I agreed one of, if not, the greatest surprise in our lifetime would be keeping LouLou’s sonograms sexless during Jeanette’s pregnancy. We also refrained from buying any green, yellow or beige noncommittal color blankets, bibs, onesies, booties and the like. By mid-August, a month before LouLou’s arrival, every possible article of clothing necessary for an infant’s comfort had been removed from its packaging, tags clipped, laundered using Dreft baby detergent, tumble dried, folded and neatly stacked inches from her changing station. I hadn’t before seen such an impressive collection of milk fresh clothing and accessories; indeed surpassing the olden days when nurses exclusively wore white cap, uniform, sheer nylons and shoes. LouLou’s snowy clean slate we felt was more than symbolic; it helped provide all three of us with a palate free from expectations on the horizon, giving this individual full potential to emerge without interfered projection — especially by mine or Jeanette’s doing.
LouLou made herself known lifting her head up from the small examination table minutes following a particularly and unnecessary hard-core forceps delivery by overwrought novices at UCSF. Years later watching LouLou lose her first tooth drove me to unexpected tears; that feeling of bygone innocence didn’t occur again as she started losing other baby teeth. Seemingly overnight LouLou’s outstretched arm raised holding my hand dangles nowadays, relaxed as mine, in the rare off-chance our adolescent daughter withdraws from textbook resistance.
LouLou brought her Rainbow Loom (teensy rubber band bracelet making kit) here to Puerto Escondido; she favors those colors embedded with glitter, though they’re being saved for last, a self-induced delayed gratification trait I suppose. Before running early morning chores, LouLou drops a half dozen or so assorted bracelets she made the day before in our shopping basket. Along our walk, perhaps during breakfast or afterward stocking up on provisions, LouLou will eye a suitable recipient. Mexican youngsters tend to be shy, some stand burrowed between their mother’s legs while clutching her for dear life; the whites of this child’s eyes surround an uncertain stare. LouLou calmly reaches into our basket, approaching this super sensitive kid greeting, “hola, tengo un regalo para ti” simultaneously pointing at the bracelet she chose to wear that morning on her wrist, while offering them another one she’d previously made. The pride that washes over LouLou seeing a stranger’s expression suddenly go from fear to giddiness is something Jeanette nor I couldn’t have ventured when guessing what our child would eventually become fourteen years later.
None of that snippet should be fulfillment I warranted from a prior life consumed by debauchery. Twenty-five Thanksgivings ago, I shoveled in enough cocaine to destroy a rhinoceros. The blow I devoured was relatively untainted, shaved off its kilo; my former Jehrcut clients included stinking rich coke dealers. I smoked it, sprinkled in Drum tobacco — laced pot too — rubbed a coated index fingertip across my gums, after snorting four, two and a half inch long, quarter inch wide fluffy lines. Minutes later gave both nostrils a proper douching using the nearest water faucet, repeating my folly twelve hours nonstop. I seriously doubt anyone begins their last hurrah proclaiming such to himself before embarking on the cold, clammy final binge. That Thanksgiving 1991, just hours after midnight was my rock bottom, (no pun intended) never having a jones for it since.
As of this date I’ve been clean and sober longer than those years I squandered self-anesthetizing; the past decade unchained by nicotine, alongside caffeine. Fourteen years ago as Jeanette rang my doorbell on Duboce Park, (for her first consultation and Jehrcut) I’d been by that point livin’ la dolce vida responsibly for over a decade. Two weeks before Jeanette sent me onto another galaxy, my mother, Jean, made her swan song visit to San Francisco. Being perfectly blunt, I apologized for a wayward son’s misgivings, specifically honed in on my confirmed bachelorhood and failure to hand her the prospective grandchild we talked about while touring Castello Pepoli five years earlier. Jean had a generous heart, (identical to Jeanette and LouLou’s) my mother peered at me, touched my forearm giving absolution, then said, “it’s okay.”
Jean never bothered to buy Jeanette any Hallmark cards inscripted To My Daughter-In-Law, the way she religiously had for her son-in-law of thirty-eight years. Jean, stricken with macular degeneration apparently requested the stationery store assistant locate cards for Jeanette inscripted To My Daughter. Obviously by my forty-fourth year, Jeanette wasn’t the first, second, third nor fourth woman I introduced to Jean. There was though something uniquely authentic between those two; Jean and Jeanette clicked instantly. The last conversation Jeanette had with Jean over my mother’s landline was Thanksgiving morning thirteen years ago; Jean’s speech was uncharacteristically frail, a high fever and vomiting had persisted for several days. Eleven hours later Jean was rushed by paramedics to Mercy Hospital after returning home from her oblivious host’s dinner. Throughout those thirty days Jean spent in the hospital, Jeanette and I prayed for Jean’s swift recovery, during that same solemn thought begged, “please don’t prolong her undeserved suffering.” Practically two months to the day after holding six-week-old LouLou, Jean was no longer capable of taking in life’s precious breath.
(619) 465 – 3845 — Jean’s number is clear as a bell, yet her voice grows more faint every year. When I was in single digits, Thanksgiving meant construction paper cutouts duplicating leaves turning warm shades, autumn squash protruding from a cornucopia horn of plenty, along with speckled corn, among plump pumpkins; as time passed, Pilgrims wearing funny black and white outfits seated with Indians disappeared, like the present, barely able to hear Jean’s priceless conversation.
Last year we had the distinct pleasure of a San Francisco Thanksgiving feast beyond compare, my oh my, Phillip outdid himself. A buttered bird roasting and endless fixings with all the trimmings was detected well before reaching the front pathway. Mouth-watering hors d’oeuvres on stunning bone china, everyone else’s cocktails appeared perfectly refreshing in cut crystal glasses. A debonair host’s lengthy dining table was bedecked quite regally, some might say Parisian inspired; by his explosion of fuchsia peonies, mini sunflowers and burgundy Gerbera daisies pulsating beneath the candelabra’s glow.
Thanksgiving has no significance here south of the border, none whatsoever; which shouldn’t imply it doesn’t mean anything to famiglia di Schiavo this year waking on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast or any other foreign location upon future journeys. Au contraire — Thanksgiving has the deepest significance of any other day on my calendar. Without that epiphany twenty-five years ago, I indisputably, shouldn’t have been blessed with Jeanette nor LouLou and their perpetual grace, who together transform adversity into triumph.